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Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima - an exerpt from Zinn

>From Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States:

The bombing of Japanese cities continued the strategy of saturation bombing to destroy civilian morale; one nighttime fire-bombing of Tokyo took 80,000 lives. And then, on August 6, 1945, came the lone American plane in the sky over Hiroshima, dropping the first atomic bomb, leaving perhaps 100,000 Japanese dead, and tens of thousands more slowly dying from radiation poisoning. Twelve U.S. navy fliers in the Hiroshima city jail were killed in the bombing, a fact that the U.S. government has never officially acknowledged, according to historian Martin Sherwin ("A World Destroyed"). Three days later, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, with perhaps 50,000 killed.

The justification for these atrocities was that this would end the war quickly, making unnecessary an invasion of Japan. Such an invasion would cost a huge number of lives, the government said--a million, according to Secretary of State Byrnes; half a million, Truman claimed was the figure given by General George Marshall. (When the papers of the Manhattan Project--the project to build the atom bomb--were released years later, they showed that Marshall urged a warning to the Japanese about the bomb, so people could be removed and only military targets hit.) These estimates of invasion losses were not realistic, and seem to have been pulled out of the air to justify bombings which, as their effects became known, horrified more and more people. Japan, by August 1945, was in desperate shape and ready to surrender. New York Times military analyst wrote, shortly after the war:

"The enemy, in a military sense, was in a hopeless strategic position by the time the Potsdam demand for unconditional surrender was made on July 26.

"Such then, was the situation when we wiped out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"Need we have done it? No one can, of course be positive, but the answer is almost certainly negative." [concludes Baldwin]

[Zinn continues:] The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, set up by the War Department in 1944 to study the results of aerial attacks in the war, interviewed hundreds of Japanese civilian and military leaders after Japan surrendered, and reported just after the war:

"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to December 31 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."

But could American leaders have known in August 1945?

The answer is, clearly, yes. The Japanese code had been broken, and Japan's messages were being intercepted. It was known the Japanese had instructed their ambassador in Moscow to work on peace negotiations with the Allies. Japanese leaders had begun talking of surrender a year before this, and the Emperor himself had begun to suggest, in June 1945, that alternatives to fighting to the end be considered. On July 13, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo wired his ambassador in Moscow: "Unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace." Martin Sherwin, after an exhaustive study of the relevant historical documents, concludes: "Having broken the Japanese code before the war, American Intelligence was able to--and did--relay this message to the President, but it had no effect whatever on efforts to bring the war to conclusion."

If only Americans had not insisted on unconditional surrender--that is, if they were willing to accept one condition to the surrender, that the Emperor, a holy figure to the Japanese, remain in place--the Japanese would have agreed to stop the war.

Why did the United States not take that small step to save both American and Japanese lives? Was it because too much money and effort had been invested in the atomic bomb not to drop it? General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, described Truman as a man on a toboggan, the momentum too great to stop it. Or was it, as British scientist P.M.S. Blackett suggested ("Fear, War, and the Bomb"), that the United States was anxious to drop the bomb before the Russians entered the war against Japan?

The Russians had secretly agreed (they were officially not at war with Japan) they would come into the war ninety days after the end of the European war. That turned out to be May 8, and so, on August 8, the Russians were due to declare war on Japan. But by then the big bomb had been dropped, and the next day a second one would be dropped on Nagasaki; the Japanese would surrender to the United States, not the Russians, and the United States would be the occupier of postwar Japan. In other words, Blackett says, the dropping of the bomb was "the first major operation of the cold diplomatic war with Russia." Blackett is supported by American historian Gar Alperovitz ("Atomic Diplomacy"), who notes a diary entry for July 28, 1945, by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, describing Secretary of State James F. Byrnes as "most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in."

Truman had said, "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar was possible, the killing of civilians." It was a preposterous statement. Those 100,000 killed in Hiroshima were almost all civilians. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey said in its official report: "Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population."

The dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki seems to have been scheduled in advance, and no one has ever been able to explain why it was dropped. Was it because this was a plutonium bomb whereas the Hiroshima bomb was a uranium bomb? Were the dead and irradiated of Nagasaki victims of a scientific experiment? Martin Sherwin says that among the Nagasaki dead were probably American prisoners of war. He notes a message of July 31 from Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Forces, Guam, to the War Department:

"Reports prisoner of war sources, not verified by photos, given location of Allied prisoner of war camp one mile north of center of city of Nagasaki. Does this influence the choice of this target for initial Centerboard operation? Request immediate reply."

The reply: "Targets previously assigned for Centerboard remain unchanged."

True, the war ended quickly. Italy had been defeated a year earlier. Germany had recently surrendered, crushed primarily by the armies of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front, aided by the Allied armies on the West. Now Japan surrendered. The Fascist powers were destroyed.

But what about fascism--as idea, as reality? Were its essential elements--militarism, racism, imperialism--now gone? Or were they absorbed into the already poisoned bones of the victors?


A short exchange between David Barsamian and Howard Zinn, which appears in "The Future of History":

David Barsamian: In the mid-1960s, you visited Hiroshima. You had intended to make certain remarks at a gathering of survivors. You weren't able to make them.

Howard Zinn: It was a terrible moment. A few Americans visited Hiroshima every August. It was an international gathering to commemorate the dropping of the bomb. We were taken to visit a house where people who had survived Hiroshima gathered and socialized with one another. We were a little international group, a few Americans, a Frenchman and a Russian. The Japanese survivors were sitting on the floor. We were expected to get up and say something to them as visitors from other countries. The Russian woman spoke about what the Russians had suffered in the war and how she could commiserate with the Japanese. As I planned to get up and speak, I thought, I don't know what I can say. But I have to be honest. I have to say I was a bombardier, even though I didn't bomb Japan. I bombed people, innocent people, civilians, just as in Hiroshima. So I got up to speak and looked out at the people sitting there. Suddenly something happened to my eyesight, my brain. I saw this blur of people who were blind, with missing arms, missing legs, people whose skin was covered with sores. This was real. That's what these people looked like. I looked out at them and I couldn't speak. In all the speaking I've ever done, nothing like that has ever happened to me. It was impossible. I just stood there. My voice choked up. That was it, I just couldn't speak.

Source: Political Literacy Course from Common Courage Press- A backbone of facts to stand up to spineless power. Emails 48, 50 and 51. November 10, 12 and 13 1999. Week 10: U.S. Motivations in World Wars I and II.

These facts and excerpts come from Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States,"

And from Howard Zinn's "The Future of History: Interviews with David Barsamian,"

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Moral Citizen: evil-barry on Aug 06, 03 | 3:33 pm | Profile
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